Born in 1947, Gregg Allman started out performing as a teenager. He had several groups with his older brother Duane before the pair helped create the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. Known for their bluesy, improvisational style, the Allman Brothers Band hit it big in the early 1970s. In 1986, he made the charts with "I'm No Angel" as a solo artist. Allman continues to record new music and work with the Allman Brothers Band.
With his older brother, Duane, Gregg Allman helped break new ground in rock music. The Allman Brothers Band spearheaded the 1970s Southern rock sound, drawing heavily from both country and blues influences. In addition to his work with the Allman Brothers Band, he has also enjoyed some success as a solo artist.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Gregg's early life was marked by tragedy. His father was murdered by a hitchhiker when he was only two years old. Allman later moved with his mother and brother to Florida. Around the age of 10, he and his brother went to go see legendary blues guitarist B. B. King in concert. The two brothers were greatly inspired by King. Allman learned how to play the guitar and even taught his brother. Before long, however, Duane had surpassed him as a guitarist. Gregg switched over to singing and later playing the keyboard.
As a teenager, Allman played in local bands in the Daytona Beach area. He and his brother formed the Allman Joys in 1965. Two years later, they tried again as the Hourglass out in Los Angeles. The group recorded two albums for Liberty Records, which went nowhere. After this, Gregg floundered for a time while his brother became a popular session musician in the South.
The Allman Brothers Band
The Allman Brothers Band got its start in 1969. The original five members were Gregg Allman on vocals and keyboards, Duane Allman and Dickey Betts both on lead guitar, Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson and Butch Trucks on dueling drum kits, and Berry Oakley on bass. Their blues-infused rock greatly benefited from this unusual instrument lineup, and the group quickly developed a following with its powerful, jam-filled live shows. They released their self-titled debut album that same year. Featuring such songs as "Dreams" and "Whipping Post," The Allman Brothers Band earned strong reviews. Gregg Allman helped write several songs on the recording. He also worked on several tracks for the next record, 1971's Idlewild South, including the now-classic "Midnight Rider."
The rising stars of Southern rock then put out what is considered to be one of the best live albums of all time, 1971's At Fillmore East. But Allman and his bandmates were soon derailed by tragedy. Allman's brother died in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia, that October. "Duane was the father of the band," Gregg Allman later told Guitar Player magazine. "Somehow he had this real magic about him that would lock us all in, and we'd take off." Despite the loss of the group's driving force, the band decided to continue without replacing Duane. They released one of their most commercially successful albums, Eat a Peach, in 1972.
That same year, Allman lost another bandmate, in eerily familiar circumstances. Bassist Berry Oakley died in a motorcycle crash only a short distance from where Duane Allman had lost his life in Macon, Georgia. Still the band pressed on, and reached the top of the charts in 1973 with the album Brothers and Sisters. Around this time, Betts assumed more of a leadership role within the group, and tensions mounted between him and Allman.
While enjoying great commercial success, Allman was in a downward spiral in his personal life. He became a heroin addict and was arrested on drug charges in 1976. To avoid jail, Allman agreed to testify against Scooter Herring, his road manager. Herring was later sentenced to 75 years in prison. Allman's testimony was seen as a betrayal by his bandmates, who swore that they would never work with him again.
Never say never, as the group has reformed several times over the years. In 1989, the Allman Brothers Band reunited and toured for their 20th anniversary. They have remained a popular live act and have continued to record new material. In 1995, Allman and his bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1973, Allman released his first solo album, Laid Back, which was well-received by critics. Neither fans nor reviewers had any kind words for his effort, however. He recorded an album with Cher called Two the Hard Way (1977). The collection of duets proved to be as big a disaster as their relationship. The couple first wed in July 1975, but Cher sought to dissolve their union after nine days. Allman's drug and alcohol problems caused much of the tension within the relationship. While he soon won her back, Allman split from Cher for good in 1979. The couple had one son together, Elijah Blue.
After the 1976 split from the Allman Brothers Band, Allman released his next solo album, Playin' Up a Storm (1977). He had his biggest solo hit in 1986 with the title track from I'm No Angel. After this record, Allman made a few more albums on his own, none matching the level of success he had experienced with the Allman Brothers Band.
In 2007, Allman was diagnosed with hepatitis C. The condition "was laying dormant for awhile and just kind of crept up on me. I was worn out. I had to sleep 10 or 11 hours a day to two or three [hours]," he explained to Billboard. He had a liver transplant in 2010 and has returned to making music. He released his latest solo album, Low Country Blues, the following year.
Allman and the rest of the Allman Brothers Band were honored with the special Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 2012. That March, he had to drop out of a number of Allman Brothers Band concerts in New York City because of a problem with a bulging disc in his back. Allman remains hopeful that he can return to touring in the future.
Also in 2012, Allman decided to share his struggles and triumphs with others in his memoir, My Cross to Bear. "When I got out of high school, I thought, 'I'll take a year or two off and play the clubs, get this out of my system, and then go to med school,'" he explained in a statement. "More than 40 years later, I figure it's finally time to write about this crazy journey that's taken me around the world and back."
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